videogames

The rise and rise of eSports: Video gamers may soon be paid more than top pro athletes

Media giants like ESPN may have thought that electronic sports was a fad but not anymore.

Your interest in sports may have started out as a hobby when you were just a kid. You were better at it than others, and some even said you were gifted. Maybe you had a chance to develop into a professional athlete.

Colleges would soon line up to extend full scholarships. If you pushed hard enough, practised countless hours and kept a cool head, lucrative contracts and international fame awaited.

This fantasy plays out for many North American kids who dream of “making it to the big leagues.”

Whether they play hockey, football or basketball, even the most remote possibility of turning their love of the game into a respected career is worth sacrificing for.

Enter video games.

In less than a decade, the realm of professional sport has been taken by storm by the rise of eSports (short for electronic sports). These video game events now compete with – and in some cases outperform – traditional sports leagues for live viewership and advertising dollars.

For the top eSports players, this means sponsorship contracts, endorsements, prize money and yes, global stardom.

TV still relevant

This week, dozens of professional video game players will descend on Toronto during NXNE, an annual music and arts festival, to compete in different games for prizes of up to $1,000. Not a bad payday, perhaps, but still chump change in the eSports scene.

For example, Dota 2, a popular battle arena game published by Valve, recently handed out $20 million to its top players during its finale.

What does this mean for traditional sports? And sports TV viewership?

The lasting broadcast success of sports leagues games can be explained by the fact that they are meant to be shared happenings and are best experienced live. As such, they have been resilient to disruptions within the media landscape and somewhat spared by the advent of on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The ability to capture a sizeable number of “eyeballs,” long enough and at a precise time, is the reason why professional sports leagues still command huge TV rights and advertising dollars.

In the past few years, the “Big Four” North American sports leagues have all struck new deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Shifts in sports culture

Some leagues like Major League Baseball, and their once subsidiary Advanced Media division have long embraced technological innovations to enhance audiences’ experience.

Meanwhile, media and telecommunication giants have been slower to catch on.

In 2016, John Skipper, then president of ESPN, referring to cable TV packages said: “We are still engaged in the most successful business model in the history of media, and see no reason to abandon it.”

This attitude, at the time, was not only symptomatic of a lag or inability to adopt technological innovations, but also raised concerns about the company’s future.

But the decline of the traditional linear broadcast, and the risk of losing relevancy in this digital, broadband and tech savvy media landscape is inevitable, and forces these media giants to question their traditional business models and to focus on online audiences.

Along with this shift, a new, popular and expansive trend for the new generation has emerged – eSports.

Whether eSports are actual sports or not is a whole other debate; however, the emergence of the global video game competition field demands attention and strategic investment.

Why eSports is doing so well

As a spectator sport, video games generate viewership at least on par with professional leagues.

Take, for instance, 2016’s League of Legends tournament that drew 36 million viewers, five million more than the NBA Finals, in front of a sellout crowd at the famous Bird Nest stadium in China.

eSports events regularly draw sellout crowds like major professional sports leagues.(Ubisoft)
eSports events regularly draw sellout crowds like major professional sports leagues.(Ubisoft)

eSports mimic traditional sports leagues principles: Exciting content, likeable stars, catchy team names, slow motion highlights, intense competition and an uncertain outcome.

These video games attract audiences as they are no longer simply designed to be played, but increasingly to be visually pleasing for audiences.

Age-wise, compared to traditional sports that struggle to diversify their audience demographics, eSports have successfully attracted younger viewers.

The fan base is pretty young, with 61 per cent of fans falling in the 18-34 age range. Young men, in particular, are a desirable market for many advertisers.

eSports attracts advertisers

The economic outlook for video gaming sports is staggering. According to NewZoo, eSports “on its current trajectory is estimated to reach $1.4 billion by 2020.” And a “more optimistic scenario places revenues at $2.4 billion.”

Companies like Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Samsung, all usual suspects when it comes to advertising and young people, are flocking to eSports.

In Recent years, eSports has made efforts to monetize across traditional revenue streams, such as merchandise sales, subscriptions plans, ticket sales and broadcast rights. It is, once again, taking a page straight out traditional sports leagues’ playbook.

So, what can established leagues and media giants do? Given the choice between fighting eSports or joining them, many appear to have chosen the latter. Recall ESPN resisting change in 2016. Then fast forward to their recent strategic investments in the digital platform BAMTech, once MLB Advanced Media, in order to launch ESPN streaming services.

As a result, Disney, the 100% owner of ESPN, now has a say in League of Legends streaming because its publisher Riot Games had signed a seven-year US$350 million dollar broadcast deal with BAMTech.

FIFA just partnered with Electronic Arts on a online tournament that drew 20 million players and 30 million viewers. Also hoping to create platform synergies and to reach new audiences, Amazon recently announced the acquisition of Twitch, the leading game streaming service.

These examples show that eSports are not just popular with gamers, but also among sports leagues and media giants. Both stand to learn from each other. No wonder Activision’s CEO said that he wanted to “become the ESPN of eSports.

This popularity also opens up more opportunities to compete on the professional level and earn huge endorsements, prize money and salaries just like LeBron James, Serena Williams, Danica Patrick or Sidney Crosby.

In fact, higher education eSports programs are already launching across the country and college scholarships are now commonplace, further acknowledging the economic viability and social acceptability of this phenomenon.

And with talks of introducing eSports in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Canada’s “Own the Podium” program may soon have to follow suit.

In any case, it turns out that our parents were wrong all along: You can stay glued to your console in the basement all day and still make it pro.
Louis-Etienne Dubois, Assistant Professor, School of Creative Industries, Ryerson Universityand Laurel Walzak, Assistant Professor, RTA School of Media, Ryerson University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.